Animal control issue dominates Mathews budget hearing

Sherry Hamilton - Posted on Apr 19, 2013 - 09:33 AM

With a fully-funded school budget, extra funds allocated for public safety and constitutional offices, and no tax increases, Mathews County’s proposed FY 2013–2014 budget drew objections in only one area during Thursday night’s budget public hearing—animal control.

The sparsely attended meeting lasted just 20 minutes, and only five residents offered comments. Superintendent of Schools Dr. David J. Holleran complimented the board chair Edwina Casey and County Administrator Mindy Moran for an “outstanding job” on preparing the budget, saying that Moran “put up with me with about 20 meetings and looking at the budget again and again.”

Commissioner of the Revenue Les Hall thanked the board for funding his office, but added that the county still “needs a fully-funded animal control officer.”

Last October, the county’s animal control operations were shifted from the sheriff’s office, where it had been for several years, back to the county administrator’s office. At that time, one of the two animal control officers was retained as a regular employee in the sheriff’s office.

The remaining animal control officer now reports to Moran, who cut the position from full time to 30 hours a week, explaining that animal control had been handling calls that weren’t under its purview, that the call volume didn’t justify a full-time position, and that the office would concentrate on dealing with licensed animals. Objections to the changes have been expressed at a number of meetings since the changes were made.

Also speaking about the animal control issue was Shirley Daniel, a Diggs resident and an employee in the office of the Commissioner of the Revenue. She, too, thanked the board for approving the commissioner’s budget, then said that she believed the animal control officer should be full-time.

Gloucester-Mathews Humane Society board member Betsy Henderson thanked the board for “a very fine budget,” adding, “you have done a remarkable job.” However, she, too expressed concern about having only a part-time animal control officer. She said there had been numerous times when an animal had been running loose and there was no officer on duty to respond.

“The reduced services are impacting citizens,” she said.

Finally, Richard Browder of Port Haywood spoke at length on the issue. He said he had been “disappointed and dismayed that there was essentially no discussion about the drastic cut in the animal control budget” during the board’s budget work session. He pointed out that $54,000 was cut from animal control’s budget in 2012, with “over $40,000 of these funds” then allocated to other departments and the discretionary fund.

Browder said he and others had met with the state veterinarian the previous Monday and the group was told that “Mathews County may be the only jurisdiction in Virginia with less than one full-time animal control officer.” He said that the state veterinarian “continually mentioned and stressed” that local animal control departments needed “to meet citizen expectations and to follow best practices in addition to meeting all legal requirements.”

“These include responses to issues for all animals, not just dogs,” said Browder, “and he (the state veterinarian) emphasized that localities cannot ignore cats. Currently, our county has essentially no response to cat issues.”

Browder said that the “extreme drop” in call volume experienced by animal control had been caused by a reduction in services and that residents who have received “little or no help” have simply stopped calling.

“This is not a reflection on our animal control officer,” said Browder. “He is simply not getting the information he needs to do his job.”

Browder urged the board to fund the position full-time, forward every animal issue to animal control, and amend department policy “to allow the department to best meet all citizens’ expectations and to properly service all of our animals.”

The board had no discussion on any matter and adjourned the meeting until 1 p.m. Tuesday, when the regular meeting and budget adoption are scheduled.